Falling Lessons

I didn’t mean to go ice skating.

It just sort of happened.

It was my 11 year-old’s birthday, and my intention was for her and her friend to skate. My plan was to be the photo responsible, warm toed, adoring parent on the side-line. But after a few, reckless minutes shadowed by looks of actual terror on their sweet faces, it became clear that if this was to be the day of joy and celebration as I had intended it to be, the girls were gonna need a little backup.

Look out world, Mama’s on ice.

Now, I’m no great skater by any stretch of the imagination. But I’m good enough to help them find their skate-legs and glide about without significant fear of breaking anything vital. I would even go so far as to say that I am capable of a small measure of grace on the ice; that is, until I sense a threat to my balance and reflexively flail like Joe Cocker.

I offer this insight as a public service announcement for anyone looking for a practical exercise in humility: Try ice skating with strangers. You will quickly note that even the most stylishly dressed, confident looking people with mad swag on dry land look like they’re staving off an epileptic fit in the rink. Ice skating is the great equalizer.

But, there is a deeper insight too, because the reality of “not looking cool” on ice extends way beyond something as superficial as ego. “Not looking cool” with metal blades on your feet and a cold, hard sheet of ice beneath you makes you a downright danger to yourself and others.

But I’m a Mom and my swag has evolved over the years. And, anyway, I put myself in the service of joy and 11 year old girls, so along with the circulation to my feet, I laced my ego right up and hit the rink with as much confidence as I could muster.

Here’s the thing: I went out there knowing that I was going to fall.

I didn’t know how or when, but I knew it would come. I practically willed myself to fall, just to get the anticipation of it out of the way.

I coached myself and the girls with practical tips about balance and the “right way” to fall. I peppered my instructions with Friday Night Lights inspired pep-talks: “You only fall in order to get up,” “Yeah, it’ll hurt, but it’s just pain, so what?!” “Clear eyes, full hearts can’t lose!” kind of hype.

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And then, it happened.

I. Ate. It.

Although I had assumed myself “ready” for it, I realized that there is very little you can actually do to prepare yourself for a 152 lbs. of pure body weight reenacting the laws of gravity upon your knee.

Humiliation or fear of looking uncool isn’t even an issue at this point, because pain pulls rank over ego any day and all I was feeling was throbbing bone on cold, hard ice.

Here’s what I learned about falling:

Falling hurts. Knowing its coming doesn’t take the pain away.

Here’s what else I learned about falling:

Knowing that you’ve fallen in the line of duty – in the service of joy- in the service of fun, of family, of birthday, in the service of trying… is the best condition you could possibly be in when you do fall. Because the fact is, we’re all going to take a nose dive at some point. When we can rise and see ourselves as the wet, limping, cold mess that we are, and then look past that and at the bundled shapes of color, smiling, laughing and awkward in their own ways skating across on the front lines of life all around us… well, then we get to say something wonderful:

“Well heck… I fell!”

And then you get to shake yourself off, sit it out for a few rounds, head to the coffee machine and buy a round of hot cocoa. And every time you feel that ache in your knee, you get to think – I was alive today. I was really alive.